Profile in Philanthropy | Marilyn and Donald H. Schaffer

Donald Schaffer had not been actively involved with any Jewish organization since his days at the University of Texas, but as an active young business man, husband and father, he was asked to join a Jewish Community Center committee. A few day later, he was invited to join the board of Jewish Family Service.

This Dallas native ended up leading a generation of some of the city’s major Jewish organizations and philanthropic activities, all because he said “yes.”

“I did not know what to expect from my participation with these two agencies, but over the years, one thing led to another, another, another and then another,” he said.

The four “Another’s” turned into the presidency of the JCC (1978-1980) and the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas (1997-1999), then the chairmanship of the Dallas Jewish Community Capital Campaign (1999-2005) and the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation (2007-2010).

Don remembers his nervous feelings as he took on the leadership of the Capital Campaign. He felt that raising funds for the JCC and Federation was a cakewalk compared to what he was going to face with the Capital Campaign. The success of the Campaign was vital to the 10 participating agencies who desperately needed new or updated facilities in order to “shape the future history of a greater Dallas Jewish life” as the brochures promised.

“The goal was $50 million, and the results of the community feasibility study showed that only a maximum of $28-$37 million could be raised,” Don smiles a little at the memory. But the campaign led by Howard Schultz, Larry Schoenbrun, and Robert Feldman, through the pride in community and generosity of donors, actually raised $61 million in cash, pledges and in-kind gifts.

“Promoting Judaism by working for the needs of whatever agency they represent gives Marilyn and Don great satisfaction,” says Meyer Bodoff, president and CEO of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation.

Don says, “the other effort I’m most proud of is during my chairmanship of the Foundation; the program, Create a Jewish Legacy. This was an out-reach to help donors, along with their estate planners, satisfy their charitable legacy goals through bequests. The CJL was developed and executed by a committee of some 15 members, chaired by Stuart Prescott, and a very small, but dedicated staff led by CEO Meyer Bodoff. Although the activity continues as an important part of their work, the first phase of the program generated approximately $41 million. The passion and generosity of these donors will help guarantee the financial health of our Jewish community organizations for years to come.”

Family community involvement does not stop with Don Schaffer. Marilyn is as busy as her husband, having served on Boards of the JCC, Community Homes for Adults, Inc., Legacy Senior Homes and on committees of the Foundation and National Council

of Jewish Women. And while all this was going on, she managed to conduct her residential real estate business for 40+ years. Marilyn and Don get great pleasure out of going the extra mile for these organizations, being a sponsor for virtually everything the JCC can think of from their annual b.event to the BookFest, Film Festival and Bagel Run. And they get a lot of satisfaction each year from Marilyn shopping with their daughters and grandchildren for turkeys and a multitude of foods that they personally deliver to the residents and staff of CHAI for Thanksgiving.

As a child, Don grew up in South Dallas, which was the center of Dallas Jewish life in the 40’s and 50’s. His family observed the holidays, attended services, and Don had his Bar Mitzvah at Agudas Achim Synagogue. Marilyn grew up in Galveston, where her family kept kosher and her father was a shul president. She says the state of Israel and philanthropy were ever-present topics in her childhood home.

Don describes his wife of 57 years, saying: “Marilyn has a type A personality, does not allow the word ‘tired’ to be used in our home, and constantly reminds me that she thinks sleeping is a
waste of time.”

Marilyn and Don show a pride of ownership when talking about Dallas and especially the Arts district. They are members of or subscribers to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Theater Center, Dallas Museum of Art, and the Nasher Sculpture Center. They were proud to have been a contributor to the development campaign of the Arts District. They also follow the outcomes of all the Dallas professional sports teams and because they walk the talk of fitness, on any given day, you might find them enjoying their power exercise walk at North Park Mall.

The Schaffer’s true passion, however, lies in being Jewish and promoting the welfare of Jewish life in Dallas, Israel and wherever Jews may be. The Schaffers are members of Congregation Shearith Israel and regularly make donations to local, Israel and overseas causes through their philanthropic fund managed by the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation. In addition, they are strong believers and supporters in the work of AIPAC and the Dallas Holocaust Museum.

Their greatest joy is their three daughters, who seem to have independently decided they wanted to be involved and which community activities they would like to pursue. The Schaffers said that they would like to take some credit for their daughter’s involvements, but were not consulted in advance. They found out when each daughter decided to tell. It just seemed to come naturally to the girls, and their parents could not be prouder.

Pamela Schaffer Pidgeon serves on the Board of Congregation Anshai Torah, is organizer of Monday’s Minyan, and co-chair of Federation’s Pacesetter Event for 2017 and 2018. Ann Schaffer Ochstein co-chaired an annual Children’s Cancer Event (that attracted nearly 1,000 attendees), served on the Board of the JCC, served as co-president of Akiba Academy PTA, and co-chair of the Federation Empowering Leadership Program. Robin Schaffer Roth, who lives with her family in Houston, volunteers at Seven Acres Senior Living Home and is active at Congregation Emanu-El, where her husband, Rodney, is the senior vice-president. Robin is also an active volunteer at her son’s school, the Emery/Weiner Center for Jewish Education. All three of the Schaffer daughters participate in Meals on Wheels and are married to Jewishly engaged and very charitable husbands.

Don and Marilyn Schaffer | Robin and Rodney Roth |  Ann and Michael Ochstein | Pam and Michael Pidgeon

The Schaffers, who are so modest about their own accomplishments, are bursting with pride over the involvements of their children and grandchildren and eagerly share details. The six Schaffer grandchildren (two girls and four boys), all post-Bat Mitzvah and Bar Mitzvah, are also deeply engaged in Jewish life. Four have attended Jewish camp and three are attending or have graduated Jewish day schools. Their oldest grandson in Houston, with his dad’s help and a school mate, developed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization at the age of 14. Indeed, Bottles of Smiles is something of a legend. Bottles filled with all sorts of fun, cheerful items are sent to children’s hospitals in different states to cheer up and take children’s minds off of their illness. It became so popular that national BBYO took the project a few years ago as one of their activities and still continue to use it. Don marvels at his grandson’s achievement and acknowledges that when he was 14, he “did not know a nonprofit from a profit.”

Don, reflecting on his Jewish leadership journey, said that there were two things that motivated him and one very smart thing for which he will take credit.

“The motivation and respect for the work I was undertaking came from Three Giants of our Jewish community who are no longer with us. They are Ervin Donsky, Murray Munves, and Henry Cohn. Each had their own personality; out-spoken, forceful, direct, soft spoken, factual, persuasive…but they all had several things in common: passion, community respect, and generosity, all of which was very evident and I will never forget them.”

“The second motivation for my involvement throughout the years was quite simple. I liked to rub elbows with intelligence and those who had similar principles and goals, so, I always seemed to be able to surround myself with knowledgeable, ambitious, and respected volunteers. In addition, I always had a good working relationship with the professional staff. We might disagree on certain issues, but always were respectful and had the same goals.”

The Schaffers feel that they are privileged to be Jewish and live a Jewish life.

“It is so ingrained in our activities and thoughts,” they say.

They both agree that they would like to leave this understanding and legacy to the future generations. When asked how they intend and would advise others to nurture Jewish pride, they responded in emphatic unison: “physically!”

“Physically involve your children and grandchildren,” say Marilyn and Don. “Send them to Jewish summer camps, see that they get to Israel, take them to agency annual dinner events and enroll them in Jewish day schools if you can. The idea is to develop close relationships with Jewish friends and expose them to everything good in Judaism.”